There is something especially about the broad, open, and moving canvas that a film provides artists to tell their stories. Its ingenuity is that it combines multiple art forms into a unique conveyor of fierce and gentle emotions that is the human experience. In that, a single frame can be a view as a painting, its musical score can be listened as a symphony, and the cries of its characters permanently records the drama of theater. Great films can do that; lesser makes you wonder about the decline of civilization and question your sanity for having spent money on them.
Every summer there is a film that I can hardly wait to see. This past summer was sort of an exception. There wasn’t a movie that I couldn’t wait to see. I was cautiously optimistic about How to Train Your Dragon 2, mildly excited about X-Man: Days of Future Past, curious about Guardian of the Galaxy and indifferent about the rest. Unbeknown to me was that there were movies like “Boyhood” waiting to be discovered.
Boyhood is the passion project of Richard Linklater (Daze and Confused), filmed over 12 years with the same cast. It is a painfully honest and beautiful film about a family living in an ever-increasing secular society. The film is a coup in filmmaking. The high-risk idea of filming a kid grow-up over the span of 12 years immensely pays off. It not only adds such a subtle familiarity with the character, but a deep texture of realism unmatched by any especial effect. It not only adds such a subtle familiarity with the character, but a deep texture of realism unmatched by any especial effect. Its visual and musical cues play a central role in the narrative while the script manages to captivate your attention by portraying ordinary life with simplicity, honesty and wit.
What I found interesting about this film was that although it is obviously narrated from a post Christian point of view its message led the audience, in my opinion, to question the vanity and futility of such world view. This was clear to me towards the end of the film (spoiler alert) when the mom goes through what seems to be a nihilistic crisis after her youngest child Mason and the main character goes off to college:
Mom: This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First, I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own fucking funeral?
Mom starts crying.
Mom: I just thought it would have been better.
That last line stroked a nerve. It was brutally honest and painful. On one hand it shows the vulnerability of hard working mom facing an empty nest and a new way of life; on the other hand it exposes a deeper longing for fulfillment. The apparent dissatisfaction reveals a paramount reality of today’s secular world. That is the lack of objective truths. In such world-view the meaning of things and the value of actions are delegated to subjectivism. I think this is why I like this movie so much. It touches on some fundamental questions about the human experience. Is it all worth it? Do all the sufferings and joys of life have any transcendent and objective meaning or are they subjugated to our own capacity to rationalize them? As a Christian I believe so. All I have to do is to look at the Cross.
Every summer there is always a movie that surprises me and turns out to be an unexpected gem. A few summers ago, it was How to Train Your Dragons. I didn’t think much of it as I walked into the movie theater, but a quarter into the film I fell in love with the phenomenal world of Vikings and dragons that it created. This summer the honors went to The Giver, a passion project by Jeff Bridges, who originally wanted his father to play one of the main characters, the giver of memories.
The movie does a fairly good job, in portraying the world that Lois Lowry created in her award winning children’s book “The Giver”. In this dystopian future there are no wars, hunger, diseases, or social unrest. Everyone seems to be contempt and safe living in a technologically advanced society that provides health care, nutrition, and housing for free, but that is devoid of religion, ideology, or even objective morality.
Aptly the landscape of this dystopian future is literally viewed in black and white by its citizens. Differences are only acknowledged once in an individual lifetime. Sameness is the central paradigm of this society. To this end emotions and distinctions are highly regulated through daily injections and precise use of language. Life altering decisions are made for you, like your career or even your “family unit”. Memories of history, cultures and past civilizations are sandboxed to one member of the community called “The Giver”. The movie centers on the transition of these memories from an old man, the giver, to a teenage boy, the receiver.
From the cinematography point of view the movie adaptation didn’t fully exploited its potential but it did a great job in affirming the values of life, liberty and the pursue of happiness. Simply put it, in my opinion, this is one of the best pro-life films that I have seen in recent memory. The film deftly combines its narrative with visual imagery of memories of a world long gone. Sometimes this memory is joyful, others they are painful, but they convey a transcendental truth about our human condition. That is, we were made for love and without the ability to freely choose it there cannot be love.
The movie as well as the book works at least at two levels. First, as a political commentary it warns against the false promise of humanism; that deludes its self in its ambition to create the perfect society. History shows us that such attempts leads to the denigration and the devaluation of human life. National Socialism and Communism being the two prime examples of such grievous ideology. One caused the death of about 12 million people during WWII while the other the death of ~200 million people during the 20th century.
In the world of “The Giver” human life is valued according to its potential to serve society. Ineffective individuals, non-conformists, the elderly and the ill adapted babies are discarded to elsewhere, a euphemism for euthanasia. Political correctness are disguised as politeness. Language is used to manipulate the morals. This is not so different from our own society. We refer to the killing of a baby as a choice and to same sex partnership as marriage.
On another level “The Giver” is introspection on what it means to be human. Can humanity devoid of emotions and free will be truly alive? As the main character Jona awakens to the reality of his world he feels more alive than ever, but at the same time more lonely than ever. He feels alive because his search for truth and found it. More isolated and lonely than ever because he realized that nobody else is seeking truth. This rings so true for Christians. We seek for truth in Christ and found it but find our self so lonely when we realized that most are not even seeking.
Finally the last stand out film of the summer was… if you are still reading. Thank you. Really thank you! It was a toss up between Rise of the Planet of the Apes, extremely well made action packed drama, How to Train Your Dragons 2, which arguably has one of the best family scenes of any recent movie, and X-Men: Days of Future Past (Godzilla did not make the list since there was so little Godzilla in the whole movie and Guardian of the Galaxy was meh). X-Men won. I really love the lack of ambiguity of this movie. There is evil and it has to be stopped. Full stop. The combination of the old and new casts was very well done and exciting to see. The especial effects were great and the one scene with Quick Silver was worth the admission price. I had great fun watching it. After all, movies are supposed to be fun. Right?